Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Humiliated in home finale, Wild now heads to Denver for "Game 7"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 27, 2013 - 12:33 AM
It’s hard to distinguish between the worst parts of tonight’s 6-1 embarrassment at the X.
 
--Was it when Mike Yeo felt the need to respond to Ralph Krueger’s choice to start his fourth line by countering with his fourth line instead of a first-line matchup and thus a staged fight between Mike Brown and Zenon Konopka two seconds in?
--Was it the Wild giving up the first goal 25 seconds after that?
--Was it Niklas Backstrom giving up three goals on five shots and being chased with 1:22 left in the first?
--Was it the Wild wasting chance after chance against a porous Oilers defense and making Nikolai Khabibulin look like the “Bulin Wall” of old?
--Was it the “Minnesota Nice” crowd being so ticked off with the display in front of them that fans actually loudly sent Josh Harding of all people -- playing for the first time in 10 weeks since having complications with multiple sclerosis! -- a string of mocking Bronx cheers throughout the second period? (Tweet from Washington Examiner’s Brian McNally: “Philly fans think booing Josh Harding is over the top.”)
--Was it the fact the Wild gave up six goals on the first 11 shots to an Oilers team that entered with one win in the past 10 games and 13 goals in that stretch?
--Was it the fact that the Wild somehow lost 6-1 despite outshooting an Oilers team 39-17 that had gone 1-19 in its past 20 visits to the X and had been outscored 69-32 in those 20 games?
--Or was it just the mere fact that the Wild had this incredible opportunity tonight to simply win on home ice and make the playoffs only to wind up losing by at least five goals at home for the fourth time in franchise history?  
 
“It’s not the way obviously that we wanted this to play out,” Yeo said.
 
Here’s the new scenarios:
 
The Wild has one game left this season. It comes Saturday at 5:30 p.m. MT/6:30 p.m. CT at the Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche. The Wild is 11-2-2 in its past 15 games at Colorado. Backstrom is 10-2-1 in his past 13 at Colorado with a 2.10 goals against average and .935 save percentage, and Yeo said he plans to come back with him.
 
Backstrom is 21-3-4 with a 1.84 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in starts after being pulled (non-injury) in his career, including 17-1-2 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .940 save percentage since March 26, 2008.
 
“Backy’s going to play [Saturday] and I’ve got total confidence in Backy to play that game,” Yeo said. “I’ve got total confidence in our group to play that game. This one hurts. I’ve seen this group respond enough, I’ve seen our leadership enough to still feel confident.
 
“It was not our night to put it extremely mildly, but this is the group that got us here and they’ve done a lot of great things and I’ve got a lot of confidence in that group.”
 
As of the early morning hours of Saturday, I am now hearing no Jason Pominville vs. Colorado.
 
Win, and the Wild makes the playoffs. Lose, and the Wild must hope Columbus, which does nothing but win and isn’t about to blow it now, somehow loses on home ice in regulation against a Nashville Predators organization that would love to stick the shiv in the Wild’s back for signing Ryan Suter to a 13-year, $98 million deal last summer.
 
The Wild needs to win. Plain, simple.
 
“I just want the focus on [Saturday],” Yeo said. “We can talk about this one until we’re blue in the face. I don’t think it’s going to do us much good to do that. … This is a challenge for sure. It doesn’t feel good.”
 
If the Wild wins and Detroit loses at Dallas, the Wild finishes seventh and plays Anaheim. (Interestingly, the Wild beat the Stars two years ago in the season finale to eliminate them and put the Blackhawks into the playoffs).
 
If the Wild wins and Detroit wins, the Wild finishes eighth and plays Chicago.
 
If the Wild loses in overtime or shootout and Detroit doesn’t get a point, the Wild would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit, by the way. Right now, both are tied with 21 regulation/overtime wins.
 
“We play [Saturday],” Matt Cullen said. “We play very soon here and it’s the biggest game of the year, so we absolutely can’t afford to waste any time analyzing [the 6-1 loss]. We played a very good game against an LA team [Tuesday] and we need to play that style tomorrow.
 
“We have no choice. We have a Game 7 tomorrow. This is where you show what you’re made of, this is what careers are made on and these are opportunities that you don’t get very often. It’s an absolute opportunity. It’s a Game 7 to get to the playoffs.”
 
The game started in peculiar fashion when Krueger started his fourth line, which includes bruiser Mike Brown. Yeo could have ignored it and countered with a first-line mismatch.
 
Instead, Yeo got lured into starting his fourth line of Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka and Jake Dowell. Konopka usually takes the faceoffs. Instead, Dowell did and Konopka lined up next to Brown.
 
Two seconds in, a long staged fight erupted. Twenty-five seconds later – or 27 seconds into the game – a Parise turnover ended with Corey Potter scoring after Backstrom was all over the map.
 
Krueger said, “I thought there might be an aggressive start. Just felt like it was a good line to get us going. They got us going in more ways than one.”
 
Said Brown: “I was pretty surprised to see my name in the opening lineup.”
 
Said Taylor Hall: “The fight affected us very well.”
 
Asked why he countered with his fourth line, Yeo said, “That’s the way they wanted to start the game. We’re at home. We’re not going to get pushed around on our ice. We didn’t lose the game because of that.”
 
Next, Pierre-Marc Bouchard coughed up the puck to Hall and he made it 2-0. The Wild continued pressing, couldn’t score on a power play and finally Potter ended Backstrom’s night right after Cullen first fired high on a 2-on-1, then couldn’t beat Nikolai Khabibulin on a breakaway.
 
Backstrom’s contract expires at the end of the year. If the Wild loses in Colorado, this could have been all she wrote for Backstrom at home. He was staring off into space after being pulled.
 
“You’re not happy. It’s never fun to be pulled. You try to think what went wrong and improve on that and move on. Look at their goals, I don’t know if they’re bad goals. Pretty good shots, but you just have to find a way to be there,” he said.
 
In came Harding, and the second shot he saw got by him. Then, Nail Yakupov made it 5-0, then 6-0.
 
“We looked them right in the eyes,” Krueger said. “We had some really long and difficult nights here. … Everything really went our way.”
 
Late in the game, after a scrum that included Rupp and Konopka getting misconducts, Krueger put his No. 1 power-play unit out on a 5-on-3. Yeo flipped his lid.
 
Just an awful game for the Wild, which got booed and mocked and all that stuff.
 
“It’s nice to have another team booed off the ice,” Hall quipped because it’s happened a lot to the Oilers.
 
Huge game in Denver. If the Wild loses, I’d expect big changes. It might only start with the Yeo.
 
You don’t lead the division March 30 and miss the playoffs. It’s that simple. This is pro sports. If the Wild misses the playoffs, by the way, that first given up in the Jason Pominville trade becomes a lottery pick, by the way.
 
In a rarity tonight, owner Craig Leipold watched much of the third period in the GM’s booth. Chuck Fletcher interestingly didn’t look to be in there. Leipold was pacing. When he spotted me looking at him, he just looked at me and shook his head in disgust.
 
Leipold has one of the highest payrolls in the NHL. He just spent $196 million on long-term contracts on two players. How will he respond if the Wild misses?
 
The Wild just has to gut it out now. We’ll see if they can do it. As Kyle Brodziak said, “We’re fighting for our lives now. We’ve got to lay it on the line and play as desperately as we possibly can.”
 
“It’s not the way we wanted it to happen, but we’re still in a good place,” Ryan Suter said. “We win [Saturday], we’re in the playoffs and that was our goal – to get in the playoffs. And once you get in the playoffs, you set another goal. We control our own destiny here and we have to go in there and play our best game of the season.”
 
Talk to you from Denver on Saturday. I can't imagine the Wild will have a morning skate with a 5:30 p.m. local time game, so may be a late blog. Basically, I've got to pack for either a day or a week because if the Wild does make the playoffs and opens in Anaheim, I may be going right there.
 
I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission Saturday. Later. 
 
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